Self-Soothing for the Emotional Teen

It goes without saying that adolescence can be a turbulent time for teens (and their parents). Dealing with various stressors like grades or peer relationships can cause teens to quickly escalate from feelings of disappointment to extreme sadness, anger, or anxiety. Typically, parents trying to console their children may decide to say something like, “just calm down, it’s not a big deal.” For some teens this is enough to bring them back down from an intense emotional place, but for others, this leads them to feel invalidated and get even more upset.

How can we help our teens to actually calm down outside of just telling them to do so? Helping them identify how to soothe themselves is a very important skill that not only empowers them to take ownership of their emotional state, but also prepares them to effectively manage the stress and emotional experiences of adulthood.

A key to learning to self-soothe is figuring out what is soothing or calming while in a neutral emotional state. Consider sensory experiences: smell, touch, taste, vision, hearing, and movement to prompt different ideas. Some teens may identify a soft blanket to cuddle up with, relaxing or uplifting music to listen to, drinking warm tea. Turning on a funny movie or looking at old pictures of family vacations could also prompt more positive emotions to replace intense negative emotions. Giving your teen the power to make decisions about what will be soothing is crucial. Other ideas can include a cold or hot shower, doing jumping jacks or going for a run, even having an impromptu dance party in their room could be ideas for deescalating strong emotions. Let them be creative!

Many teens probably already have activities they do that they find self-soothing, but haven’t ever taken the time to write them down. In the heat of emotion, it can be difficult to think about what may make you feel better, so having a list written down can serve as a reminder to teens that they have go-to strategies for calming themselves. While this approach to reducing problematic emotions can be effective for all ages, teens can especially benefit as they enjoy asserting their independence and may stubbornly reject a parent’s suggested solutions (no matter how right they might be)!